Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), so we’re expecting a barrage of women-empowering speeches, flower-power memes, and rah-rah messages from go-getting girls all around. Miss Universe Catriona Gray, however, put more context to her address for women for IWD. In an open letter to women published through the LoveYourself organization, the queen chose to draw attention to the realities of HIV and highlight the pivotal role women can play to dispel the stigma.
In her letter, she set the tone by saying that the reality of HIV/AIDS affects everyone. She first established the notion that the epidemic “knows no gender, sexual preference, or lifestyle. It can affect anyone, and it does. But, the message I want to share today is not one of fear. In writing this, I want to create a safe space of learning, acceptance, and empowerment—for all women [facing] HIV/AIDS.”
And the queen is right. The epidemic does affect a cross-section of our society and the cases are rising at an alarming rate. According to LoveYourself, the latest data from Department of Health-Epidemiology Bureau show that an average of 32 HIV cases are reported every day. In fact, in December 2018 alone, a total of 877 Filipinos were diagnosed to have contracted HIV. For the entire 2018, a total of 11,427 were diagnosed as living with HIV.
Catriona then made a call to women: “To the women reading this, I do not want your life to be taken or defined by HIV/AIDS. To change and uplift the world for women and all people, we need to be around to make change happen. So, say that we’re in this together. Let’s protect and love ourselves.”
The LoveYourself volunteer and ambassador continued her address and highlighted the importance of getting tested. She says there shouldn’t be any stigma about getting tested; it’s really just a matter of taking responsibility for our health. In fact, the Miss Universe winner has taken the test herself, and she wants to push for the normalcy of the procedure: “Take my lead as you brave your first HIV test, and the succeeding ones, until it becomes a normal part of your health routine. Whatever the outcome may be, I want to emphasize that HIV is just a status; it doesn’t define you as a woman, more so as a person.”
After safe testing, comes the power of information. The queen urges women to educate themselves about HIV, so that they know how to protect themselves against it and manage it if it comes to that. Catriona says: “You should know that HIV is a manageable condition. If you are HIV negative, keep that status by practicing a safe and healthy lifestyle and by continuing with your HIV testing; and if you are diagnosed HIV positive, you can avail of free counselling and HIV treatment given by your government and/or even non-government organizations who are active in this cause, and of course, further take care of yourself. You have to remember that there is life after HIV if you regularly take the appropriate medicines. You can still live a normal, happy, and active life.”
Catriona has always believed in the power of women to effect change. In her letter, she highlights the pivotal role women can play in the fight against HIV. Celebrating the power of community, the queen said: “I’ve often been asked what’s the best part of being a woman in 2019, and my answer is that we (women) are beginning to come together in communities and build each other up—because it’s really when we combine our voices together that we begin to break barriers.... I’m optimistic that if we raise our voices together, we can create change, because every one of us is affected by HIV. Let the power of women create the ripples of positive change in our larger community and...all over the universe.”
To end her open letter, Catriona shared “the words of one of the most inspiring ladies [in] this advocacy. Elizabeth Taylor once said, ‘It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.’ Let’s continue to educate ourselves, our communities, and one another, as we move forward to champion this cause.” We totally agree. We’re joining Cat in her advocacy of creating safe spaces to talk about this and educating more women about this matter.
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